Sessions Meetings with Russians Appear to Contradict His Claims at His Confirmation Hearings — Or Do They?
The Washington Post is reporting tonight:
Then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) spoke twice last year with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Justice Department officials said, encounters he did not disclose when asked about possible contacts between members of President Trump’s campaign and representatives of Moscow during Sessions’s confirmation hearing to become attorney general.
At first blush it might look like Sessions told a falsehood told under oath, but I don’t think so. Here’s the video of Sessions answering a question from Al Franken:
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) March 2, 2017
FRANKEN: If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?
SESSIONS: Senator Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities. I’ve been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians. And I’m unable to comment on it.
I have bolded the qualification by Franken, which will be the basis of Sessions’s defense, and Sessions’s rather carelessly unqualified remark, which will be the basis of Democrats’ attack.
Democrats who are flipping out (Pelosi, Elizabeth Pocahantas Warren, and that annoying gumflapper Elijah Cummings have called on Sessions to resign) will concentrate on the second bolded part — Sessions’s claim that “I did not have communications with the Russians.” It would have been better if he had added “as a member of the Trump campaign” or something like that.
But Sessions’s defense will concentrate on the first bolded part above — the part of Franken’s question that says he is focused on statements that are “in the course of this campaign.” Statements by Sessions and his spokesperson can be found at BuzzFeed:
A spokeswoman for Sessions told BuzzFeed News that he met with the Russian ambassador in his capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee — not as a representative of the Trump campaign. Sessions did not mislead members of Congress, she said.
“There was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer,” spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said. “Last year, the Senator had over 25 conversations with foreign ambassadors as a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, including the British, Korean, Japanese, Polish, Indian, Chinese, Canadian, Australian, German and Russian ambassadors. He was asked during the hearing about communications between Russia and the Trump campaign—not about meetings he took as a senator and a member of the Armed Services Committee.”
Sessions also personally responded in a statement.
“I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign,” Sessions said late Wednesday. “I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”
My preliminary impression: much ado about nothing. Sessions’s defense wins the day.
[Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.]